Week Ending on February 21, 2020
The Georgia General Assembly, House and Senate, reconvened Tuesday, February 18 for the sixth week of the 2020 legislative session. The singularly most important thing we did for the week was pass HB792, the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) budget representing a $159 million cut in the budget we passed in 2019, to match Gov. Kemp’s revised revenue estimate of $27.3 billion.
In the House version of the AFY 2020 budget, we recognized the need for expanding mental health and crisis intervention services and increasing access to quality health care across the state. We also restored funding for other important budget items, including grants to county health departments, as well as a restoration of funds to ensure a fully-functioning criminal justice system, which included funding for our public defenders, accountability courts and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s (GBI) crime labs.
Even as the previously proposed budget cuts have been restored, remember that the State of Georgia must pass a balanced budget; the House budget proposal is for a BALANCED BUDGET.
Public Safety and Criminal Justice Priorities Cuts Restored
- $801,000 restored to GBI to allow the agency to hire up to eight forensic scientists and two lab technicians to process more DNA evidence and alleviate the growing backlog of sexual assault kits, and to allow GBI’s crime lab to process it’s 45,000 pieces of 30-day old crime-related evidence;
- $1.2 million for the GBI’s gang database and taskforce helping local law enforcement agencies combat gang violence;
- $1.34 million for our accountability courts that have proven to offer non-violent offenders sentencing alternatives; this funding restoration will save our state $10.3 million in cost avoidance for offenders who may otherwise go to prison;
- $1.85 million to the Georgia Public Defender Council to allow the council to hire 16 attorneys to reduce the average caseload from 148.8 to 138 per public defender, and to fill vacancies that left eight Georgia counties without a state public defender.
Governor’s Other Proposed Budget Cuts Restored
The House version of the AFY 2020 budget restored several of the Governor’s other proposed budget cuts:
- $281,000 for five food safety inspectors and two animal industry inspectors to inspect for safe foods at grocery stores, discount stores and gas stations.
- $2.8 million for Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Services supporting Georgia agribusinesses;
- $345,000 to the state’s Forestry Research program helping to address restoration of the 2.4 million acres of forest impacted by 2018’s Hurricane Michael;
- $2.6 million for county public health, which provide basic health care services, programs and resources to local communities, especially in rural Georgia where eight counties have no physician and nine rural counties only have one.
- $463,000 for the Rural Health Systems Innovation Center at Mercer School of Medicine; these medical schools provide health care to underserved and rural areas of the state
- $5.4 million to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) for crisis beds and behavioral health care services; will allow the DBHDD to maintain its current serving capacity of 4,953 individuals with 95 crisis beds in 21 crisis units statewide, as well as serve an additional 2,320 individuals
Miscellaneous House Measures Passed
The House also passed several other measures during the sixth week of session, including:
- House Bill 195, which would increase the death benefit for members of the Georgia Firefighters' Pension Fund from $5,000 to $10,000;
- House Bill 292, which would repeal the requirement for an accrued liability to be paid to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) of Georgia on behalf of participating Regent's Optional Retirement Plan members and the normal contribution rate resulting from employees who cease to be members of TRS;
- House Bill 538, which would require courts and the Georgia Tax Tribunal to decide all questions of law regarding the proper interpretation of revenue and taxation-related statutes or regulations without deference to the Department of Revenue's interpretation of the statute or regulation in dispute;
- House Bill 716, which would require any carrier that issues a health benefit plan in Georgia through an agent to pay a commission to that agent and file their proposed commission rates with the Department of Insurance;
- House Bill 758, which would allow motor carriers to implement, require or deploy a motor carrier safety improvement program for individuals without affecting the individual’s status as an employee or independent contractor;
- House Bill 759, which would authorize the annual drug update to comply with federal regulations and would capture new synthetic drugs, such as spice and bath salts;
- House Bill 765, which would increase the minimum salary and compensation of magistrates and clerks by providing a cost-of-living adjustment and a five percent raise;
- House Bill 777, which would require the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to review the tall mass timber provisions in the 2021 International Building Code and consider whether amendments should be made to the minimum standard codes;
- House Bill 780, which would allow the State Properties Commission to use a written appraisal of value for the conveyance of property that solely and directly benefits the state;
- House Bill 781, which is the annual legislation brought by the Department of Banking that would update and modernize Georgia’s banking code;
- House Bill 786, which would allow for an additional superior court judge in the Flint Judicial Circuit;
- House Resolution 1023, which would provide for a constitutional amendment that would allow Georgia citizens and corporations domiciled in Georgia to seek declaratory relief.
The House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, February 18 for Legislative Day 13. As always, I will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district and our state in my service to you. I encourage you to read updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. Our official House of Representatives website has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol. You can watch a live stream of the House proceedings; view live and archived committee meetings and review legislation we are considering.
I welcome you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the 2020 legislative session. I can be reached via email at [email protected], or j[email protected], on Facebook at facebook.com/votejeffjones and on my personal page facebook.com/jeffjones11, and by phone at my Atlanta office (404) 656-0178.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative, which I consider to be an honor and privilege.
With kind regards,